While working for an established brand may be the dream of many marketers, those who have carved their own path and built startups bring something entirely new to the table. Entrepreneurs are hustlers by nature who are conditioned to face challenges head on and are always thinking of the cheapest, leanest way to operate. They're also stellar at building a product and a team from scratch.
Although some who believe "once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur" might think ex-founders are unemployable, if a marketer with an entrepreneurial spirit comes across the right company, they actually have the perfect skill set to be a great CMO.
In his book Chief Marketing Officers at Work, author Josh Steimle, an entrepreneur himself, conducted in-depth interviews with the marketing heads of SurveyMonkey, Audible and Virgin America, among other companies. During those conversations, he learned how these CMOs' startup backgrounds helped them excel in their corporate roles.
Builders Are An Asset To Any Company
Before joining SurveyMonkey as their VP of Marketing, a position she held until August, 2016, Ada Chen Rekhi had co-founded her own startup -- a professional contact management system called Connect HQ. She remembers being drawn to SurveyMonkey's growth story and the opportunity to start with a small team and build on from there. According to Chen Rekhi, her time as a founder has greatly influenced the way she builds marketing teams.
"The analogy I always give folks when I'm interviewing is there are people who know how to operate a car," Chen Rekhi said. "They can drive it, they can shift, they can make turns, they can use signals. They understand the rules of how you operate the car. Then, there's a set of people that understand fundamentally how the car works, and they're curious about going under the hood, understanding the engine, understanding how the parts interconnect, and tinkering with it."
"Since so much of our business and where we're going is fundamentally around building new processes and solving problems related to issues other people have not seen in the past, we need people who are excited about rolling up their sleeves and building the car. We're focused on curious people that are builders," she said.
Quick Thinking Is Key To Corporate Success
Louis Gagnon, who served as Audible's Chief Product & Marketing Officer until January, 2016, cut his teeth in marketing for years as a social entrepreneur for a big NGO in Rwanda. From that experience, he learned new ways to think and communicate.
"You develop a reflex of thinking quickly about the scenarios in front of you and to think fast on your feet so you can communicate effectively and get where you want to be in an adaptive, dynamic manner. That is the skill that I've developed that is most precious," he said.
During his first pitches to a venture capitalist, he remembers the investor telling him that although his ideas were great, the presentation was far too long and ideas needed to be more concise. "That got me into thinking how I can work in hyperlink mode, where you can summarize or synthesize at a high level, then explode ideas as the audience requires," he said. "That is the skill."
Entrepreneurial Roots Bring Empathy To The Corporate World
Before joining Virgin America as their VP and CMO, and later becoming Senior Vice President Marketing for Virgin Atlantic, Luanne Calvert worked for years as a creative director at Google, a tech giant with startup roots and entrepreneurial culture. She was also the founder and CEO of Mixed Marketing, an agency specializing in buzz marketing. During her entrepreneurial pursuits, Calvert said that the best skill she's picked up is empathy.
"You learn to empathize with what agencies are going through," she said. "Empathy is a big part of what can make a good environment and the ability to collaborate. Empathy is definitely a big one and so is trying to pay the bills on time. People forget that the agencies need to get paid on time. I've been on the other side of that and we do a good job with that."